January 15th is the anniversary of the 1953 Washington Union Terminal crash, when Pennsylvania Railroad’s GG1 4876 leading the Federal Express lost its brakes and careened into the lobby of the terminal. This spectacular train wreck, on the eve of Eisenhower’s inauguration, made headlines in every major newspaper across the country.
On June 27, 1983, I exposed this view of GG1 4876 at Linden, New Jersey working from South Amboy, New Jersey to New York Penn Station with a New York & Long Branch passenger train.
On January 15, 1953, Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 electric number 4876 leading the Federal Express from Boston lost its airbrake and careened out of control on approach to Washington Union Station.
The train crashed most spectacularly and old 4876 sunk through the floor of the station concourse. It made national news and photos of the GG1 in the debris of the station was seen on most major papers across the country.
That wasn’t the end of 4876. The locomotive’s remains were remanufactured by the Pennsylvania Railroad and 4876 was restored to traffic. It operated for another 30 years.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, my family and I made a project of photographing 4876. At that time it was operated by NJDOT the precursor to today’s NJ Transit.
Last April (2017) in Basel, Switzerland, I saw a model of the famous GG1 in a shop window.
Less than a month later (May 2017), I photographed New England Central 608 at State Line crossing in Monson, Massachusetts; and this photo’s camera’s pre-assigned sequential file number was . . . (oh just take a wild guess—first four digit number that comes to mind).
The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is one of my favorite American railway museums both because of its great collection of Pennsylvania Railroad, Reading Company, Conrail and Amtrak equipment, and for its stunning interior presentation that makes railroad equipment compelling to look at.
I exposed these photos on a visit in mid-November 2017 with Pat Yough having spent the afternoon photographing the nearby Strasburg Railroad at work.
Among the fascinating aspects of the museum’s static collection are the numerous vintage freight cars that span a century of service. Too often the common freight car—the backbone of American railroad freight transport—is overshadowed in preservation by more glamorous equipment.
The Illinois Railway Museum has one of the best collections of North American railway equipment. Hundreds of pieces of equipment spanning more than a century are on display.
It’s great to be able to inspect a traditional 4-4-0, and a Forney Tank engine. I’m fond of classics such as the Santa Fe 2900-class 4-8-4, Burlington’s 4-6-4 Hudson and its streamlined Budd-built Nebraska Zephyr, and of course the Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 in Brunswick green.
The old diesels are neat, and there’s great array of old streetcars.
But then, what’s this? A Wisconsin Central SD45? Wow, nice to see that one of those was saved, but it just doesn’t seem that long ago and I was out catching these on the mainline.
And wait, what about this Metra Bi-Level electric? Weird to see THAT in a museum.
Two Chicago & North Western DASH9s!
Now I just feel old.
Views exposed with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera with Zeiss 12mm Tuoit.
Every so often someone will ask if have any regrets. I’m never sure what they’re getting at, but yes, Yes I do.
My regrets? Not learning photography skills more quickly.
I made this photograph in late 1978 (slide mount reads ‘Feb 79’, but if I recall correctly, it was right around Christmas. Prompt processing wasn’t on my agenda back then).
I traveled with my father and brother to the old New Haven electrified lines. We picked this spot and set up. We were all delighted to catch this GG1 with an eastward Amtrak train. I can still feel the excitement when we spotted the old motor in the distance.
At that time I had access to all of my dad’s lenses. We probably had a 90 or 135mm with us at the time. Yet, I opted to use my 50mm.
Why? I just didn’t know any better.
Today, I look as this image and see three elements that I could have put together more effectively; the aged former Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 electric (pantograph first), old New Haven short-arm left-handed semaphores (most American semaphores aim to the right), and winter glint light.
Now, I’d use a telephoto to feature the signals and the electric in tighter more visually pleasing composition. This what I saw at the time, I just included too much dead space in my image and the locomotive and signals are too distant.
At least I was using good glass and Kodachrome film. There’s that anyway.
Tracking the Light explores photography every day.
My grandparents lived in Coop City in The Bronx for a dozen years. Their 19th floor apartment had an open terrace that looked across the Hutchinson River toward Amtrak’s former New Haven Railroad line that ran from New Rochelle over the Hell Gate Bridge toward Penn-Station.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, we’d make regular visits. I was delighted by passing of Amtrak trains, and by the time I was ten, I’d figured out how to interpret the timetable to predict when trains would pass.
Amtrak was still operating a fair few former Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 electrics, and these were my favorite. From about mid-1978, I’d keep my Leica 3A poised at the ready and if a GG1 were to appear, I’d make a color slide, or two.
While I made a great many photographs, my photographic efforts were, at best, rudimentary. Complicating matters was my general panic when a GG1 finally appeared.
As the train rolled into view, I’d try to gauge the lighting using an old Weston Master III photo cell and rapidly adjust the aperture on my Summitar lens, but my understanding of exposure was purely conceptual. In other words, I went through the motions, but really didn’t know what I was doing.
Also, I was photographing the scene with a 50mm lens, and the tracks were at least a quarter mile distant. Later, I learned to use my father’s telephoto lenses for some more effective views, but by then new AEM-7s had replaced the GG1s.
Recently, I rediscovered a box of long lost Kodachrome slides, including a bunch of my surviving photos from my grand parent’s terrace. This one is one of the few passable efforts, and will a little cropping, and some post processing in Photoshop, it isn’t too bad.
Learning technique is every photographer’s challenge. My learning curve was slow, in part because it was often months between the time of exposure and when I got slides back from Kodak. By the time I reviewed my results, I hadn’t remembered what I’d done, and didn’t know what to do to improve future efforts.
By comparison, kids starting today with digital cameras can see their results immediately and have the opportunity to learn quickly. Perhaps, from one of these same terraces, some kid today has captured one of the final runs of Amtrak’s HHP8s (recently retired from active work) or the rapidly disappearing AEM-7s!
The Industrial Designer Famed for his Steamlined Locomotives was Born November 5, 1893.
I’ve rearranged my postings to honor Raymond Loewy, whose streamlined industrial designs greatly impressed me during my formative days in railway photography.
As a youngster, I was thrilled by former Pennsylvania Railroad GG1s and made many photographs of these electrics in service on Amtrak and NJ Transit.
Today, I’ve chosen a relatively modern image of preserved and beautifully restored PRR Electric 4935 that is displayed at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. I exposed this photograph in June 2007 while working on my book Railroads of Pennsylvania.
Among Loewy’s early assignments for Pennsylvania Railroad was to refine the styling on its new GG1 electric. Loewy suggest using a welded body instead of a traditional riveted design, while providing the classic ‘cat’s whiskers’ livery and tidying up marker light housings, cab windows and other body details.
The GG1 remains one of Loewy’s best known designs and an American classic.
Just over 30 years ago, on October 29, 1983, I was among the faithful that rode New Jersey Transit’s ‘Farewell to the GG1’ excursion.
Thanks to Stephen Hirsch for reminding me of today’s significance!
January 15th, a day of significance: while best known as Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, it is less well known for the anniversary of the 1953 Washington Union Terminal crash, when Pennsylvania Railroad’s Federal Express lost its brakes and GG1 Electric 4876 careened into the lobby of the terminal. This spectacular train wreck, on the eve of Eisenhower’s inauguration, made headlines in every major newspaper across the country.
That was 60 years ago today! However, thirty years ago, GG1 4876—then operated by NJ Transit, was still in daily service. It routinely worked between Penn Station and South Amboy on New York & Long Branch trains. I intercepted this infamous electric on various occasions in its final years of service. I’d hoped to make a photo on the anniversary of its infamy. And I went so far as to write NJ Transit to find out which trains it would be working, to which they kindly replied in detail. However a snowstorm on eve of 4876’s 30th anniversary precluded my travel, so my intended images from that day never happened. What I’ve posted here are few of my black & white images scanned from 1980s-era prints. They were exposed with my battle-worn Leica IIIA from my High School days. I processed the film in the kitchen sink using a weak mix of Kodak Microdol-X.